RA: First, can you tell our readers a little about you and your husband's ethnic and cultural backgrounds?
SAVANNAH: Backgrounds are pretty basic. I'm African American, both sides can be traced back to slavery pretty directly. All from the south, Mississippi and Tennessee. My husband is Irish and Italian on his maternal side. I believe German on at least the paternal grandparents.
RA: What about the town where you live? Are interracial relationships generally accepted there?
SAVANNAH: We live in central Illinois- the state capital in fact though no one seems to know it's not Chicago:) Population is about 130k. Interracial relationships are somewhere in the mid range. Not unique by any stretch though like most places you generally see more African American men with Caucasian women than vice versa. We rarely get even an odd look. Not that it hasn't happened lol. I also have to factor in how desensitized I must be to it after all this time.
RA: How have your families handled your relationship?
SAVANNAH: Our families have ALWAYS been open and accepting. I have my suspicions that maybe some of his more extended relatives might not approve, but never openly and never anyone in his immediate family. If they don't like it they keep it to themselves. Same with mine. I suspect a few might rather have seen me settle with a black man but considering we are an extremely southern based line, that's not surprising and again- they have embraced my husband and treated him with respect and kindness. I have 8 siblings and of those 3 of us have married outside our race.
RA: It's great how accepting and supportive your families have been, and I admit I'm a little surprised that you didn't have more conflict with you coming from a family from Mississippi. Shows what I know J. I'm also surprised to hear that nearly half of your large family has married outside of your race. Did you grow up in an area where interracial relationships were somewhat accepted?
SAVANNAH: I grew up in Jacksonville, IL which is about 30 miles from where we are now. I can't say that interracial relationships were common but I can say that the environment always seemed very racially accepting. There was never a huge difference made in terms of color. In fact, I felt more ostracized by certain segments of the African American youth population than I did the white. My parents moved north for better opportunities for themselves and their kids and they were always very conscious of making sure we took advantage of that. We were raised to be respectful and speak properly. My mom still says "I could take my kids to the White House and be proud." It was not uncommon for some of the black kids to accuse us of "thinking you're white". Also, being a darker skinned girl I got picked on early on. But that's a whole other thing, though I WILL admit I'm sure it has something to do with why I felt more drawn to white men. They were more drawn to ME. Seemed to appreciate my type of beauty more than my black contemporaries. But no, I don't think Jacksonville was more accepting of IR relationships. Maybe just more accepting of racial equity, if that makes sense.
RA: You're not the first dark-skinned person to tell me they had more conflict with other people of African descent than with white people. I've been given several reasons for it, including the 'you think you're white' line. Do you think speaking properly is a 'white person' thing? Do you think your dialect has anything to do with the fact that you tend to feel more connection to white men?
SAVANNAH: No, I think people who make that accusation have been brainwashed into believing black American culture is reflected by embracing bad English on a regular basis. LOL. Just another version of ignorance. Of this I have no doubt.
Speech comes before any true life experience. I have never forced or trained myself to consciously speak a certain way. It's a product of environment and upbringing just like many things. I speak like all the other people I spent my formative years being around- peers at school and siblings. I thank God for it as it is a far better benefit in life than walking around sounding like I'm hanging out on a corner in Uneducated, USA. LOL I think it's sad when children of any race are not taught to embrace the learning opportunities that are afforded them. Never more so than when I see people taught in the same classrooms as I was who have decided that its anti-black somehow to speak the best version of the language of this country. I know how to play around with slang and feel a strong sense of community with my AA peers. But there is a time and place for everything and my parents encouraged us to understand that.
And I never claimed to feel more of a connection to white men. Only that THEY seemed to find me more attractive than AA men. They were also the ones to approach me with more respect, ask me out on real dates instead of simply trying to establish a physical relationship and the like. Essentially, I've had more white men "come correct" than black. And mama didn't raise no fool lol.
RA: Ha! You had me laughing with that answer. It's so cool that you know what you want, and that you seem to have no trouble expressing it. So speaking of children being taught to embrace the learning opportunities that are afforded to them, you have four of your own (quadruplets, for those who missed it in the intro). Will you share some ways that you've worked to make sure they value themselves and their potential?
SAVANNAH: I recall reading a quote many years ago that basically said that it never occurs to a child that they CANNOT do something until someone goes overboard telling them they can. It's something that has stuck with me and that I think about more and more now that my kids are of an age where academics are more and more challenging. They are also at the beginning stages in terms of competitive sports and the like. So for me, I think one of the best tools I can utilize to empower them is to show them that I EXPECT greatness from them. We absolutely praise them for their accomplishments. But we make sure to let them know from the beginning (whether it’s a school project, test or sporting event) that we expect them to do their best. And no matter the outcome, we find things they can be proud of in terms of how it turned out. If it's obvious they COULD have done better, we point that out. Not in a way that belittles, but in a way that showcases the reasons for our belief in them. We don’t bat an eye if one of them declares they want to be both a zoologist and a ballerina (which has happenedJ). We simply speak to them about the type of schooling and training each role will require and leave them to marinate on it LOL!
I also think that both their father and I make a point to find ways of circumventing some of the self esteem pitfalls that befell the both of us. It's easy to tell a kid how wonderful they are, how pretty, how smart, etc. But children aren’t stupid. They know that parents love them and want them to feel good about themselves lol. So my effort so far focuses more on trying to be sure they understand that EVERY person looks around themselves with the same insecurities to an extent. Every young girl wonders if she’s pretty. Every boy wants to be tougher. If they have straight hair they wish for curly. Blue eyes, they wish for brown. If they are taller/shorter/faster/smarter..whatever the case may be, the grass is always greener. I mention that to them a lot as a way to let them know that a degree of insecurity is normal and completely unfounded.
We also do our best to foster a sense of solidarity between the siblings. We have told them (already) for years that they are very lucky in that they should ALWAYS have at least 3 other people on their side throughout their lives. Even if mama is gone, daddy is gone…they have each other and they are uniquely blessed in that they can say from the moment they were conceived, they have “known” each other. There is strength to be found in that.
RA: Wow, what wisdom, and what a great example to all of us parents. For that matter, maybe if we treated everyone the way you treat your children, everyone would be a lot better off. I'm going to stick that quote on my refrigerator. Now, I know many people who question where biracial children will 'fit in'. In this ever-melding world, do you personally think that being biracial will make some things harder for your children, or do you believe that parenting is what really makes the difference?
SAVANNAH: Hmm...ya know, I think that in a lot of ways a big deal was/is made about kids "not knowing where they belong" for no real good reason. I mean, don't ALL adolescents feel like that? I mean it's always going to be something either way. Kids are still getting picked on for being too dark among their own black peers. That has been going on for as long as I can remember and I am sure it was happening long before me. By that same token there those picked on for being too light/ too white- whatever. Add to that the kids being picked on because they "think they are white" no matter their background or skin tone. It's always something. That is the nature of childhood no matter if you have one foot straddle the color line. Heck don't let me forget the white kids being picked on because they "think they are black". It's all nonsense and it's all kids. Do I think they will suffer more for being biracial? No more than the average child growing up in America. If anything I think there is a level of... appreciation for that particular type of look and beauty if nothing else. Both in the white community and in the black community. I could try to entertain the argument maybe 10 years ago. Ok not 10- maybe 20. But in this day in age with the prevalence of biracial unions and offspring in the U.S., it's just hard for me to think that way.
RA: Those are some really good things to think about. My refrigerator is going to be full of your quotes J. So, considering your answer to the last question, would you ever move to a place with little to no diversity? Why or why not?
SAVANNAH: Glad I'm not boring you! lol. We LIVE in a small suburb of the state capital. Population is under 5k and I'm pretty sure I am one of maybe 3 black female adults. The school has quite a few black, Latino and biracial children though (a mystery that has plagued my husband and I since moving here lol). I did some research before we started seriously considering the move. It was important to me that my children not be "the only". The community is pretty warm, we like MOST of our neighbors on the block and haven't had any issues at all. At least none that can be blamed on race lol. Would I prefer more brown faces? Of course! There is a level of comfort and ease that comes from knowing you share something so basic with others. Do I think about it on a daily basis? No. I work and do most of my shopping in the city so its honestly not something that occurs to me to think about most days. I come from an extremely large family and we do get together quite often. I don't feel like my kids are missing any influences from either side, so so far so good.
RA: I ask because that's something my husband and I think a lot about. We want our son to grow up around a lot of good influences, including people of a similar skin color.
Well, I really appreciate your time and insight, and also your ability to be entertaining. You've given us plenty of good things to think about.
SAVANNAH: I was glad to do it! Thanks for including me and good luck with everything!
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